Maine became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage this week after the state legislature and governor approved a bill that overturned a ban on such unions.
Gov. John Baldacci (D), who had not publicly announced his position on the bill, signed it into law just one hour after it got final legislative approval May 6.
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage five years ago, and Connecticut followed suit last year, followed by Iowa and Vermont last month. The issue of marriage equality in California is currently awaiting a state Supreme Court ruling, which is expected in the next few weeks.
Maine is now the second state, after Vermont, to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative, rather than judicial, means.
“Just one year ago, a single state allowed same-sex couples to marry,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Now, with the historic step taken by Gov. Baldacci and the Maine legislature, five states will provide equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights under state law for same-sex couples by recognizing their freedom to marry, and we hope more will follow soon.”
Baldacci is the first governor in the nation to sign a gay-marriage bill that did not follow a court decision.
Connecticut governor Jodi Rell signed such legislation last month, one year after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
Baldacci said in a statement that he did not believe that civil unions provided same-sex couples equal rights.
“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions,” Baldacci said Wednesday. “I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”
The House voted 89-57 Tuesday in favor of the bill. Last week, the Senate approved the legislation in a vote of 21-14 and gave its final approval on Wednesday before it was sent to the governor.
In his statement, Baldacci did note that voters in Maine had the power to overturn the law.
“Just as the Maine Constitution demands that all people are treated equally under the law, it also guarantees that the ultimate political power in the state belongs to the people,” he said.